Billed as, ‘A Celebration of Denver’s Restaurant Scene – One Bite at A Time’ was in fact an accurate statement. Showcasing the works from renowned heavyweights Matsuhisa, Uchi Denver and Cattivella, to local favorites Yuan Wonton, The Wayback, and Angelo’s Taverna. Hosted inside the spacious yet elegant McNichols Building at Civic Center Park – It was the perfect venue to gather with Denver’s dining public on a chilly October evening. The lines outside moved quickly and it never seemed too crowded to navigate around the perfectly spaced vendor booths. Workers and volunteers were incredibly helpful and knowledgeable – except for the ‘SECURITY’ windbreaker-jack-booted thug monitoring the VIP area, “You don’t look like a VIP” Noted…mean lady. Moving over to the GA side, the Westword greeters we’re there with a smile and helpful information. One walked me to the restroom area – above the call of duty. Climbing the stairs to the second floor, you could feel the rustling fervor.
First stop Cattivella – Elise Wiggins’ pheasant sugo was a perfect start. Orecchiette pasta with pheasant, porcini, prosciutto Pomodoro, marjoram and smoked scamorza was just what I needed coming in from the cold. Chef Elise was dishing up pasta and shaking hands congratulating her on her new PBS show. My friends Angela Neri, and ‘Biker Jim’ Pittenger were on our way…
I needed something to quench my thirst, so we stopped at Backyard Soda Co. to sample their CBD Mango Jalapeno, Ginger Lime, and my favorite, Lavender Lemon. Great flavors and hey, CBD. Very refreshing and timely.
Biker Jim insisted visiting The Lobby and knowing his backstory of car thievery – we obliged. That and he mentioned the words, ‘fried’ and ‘bread pudding’ – In my top ten for food descriptors. This did not disappoint. That Sticky Icky is a fried bread pudding bite with pumpkin spice (stay with me here, Karen) crème anglaise and rustic bacon. Christ on a cross this was a winner.
Next up – Jackdaw. Irish Mac & Cheese with Guinness Braised Corned Beef. If modern Irish fusion puzzles you – this dish alone should persuade you. Creamy, rustic, unctuous, and brilliantly executed. In doing a lot of events like this, I’m always amazed when folks pull it off as expertly as Jackdaw. Healthy portion, hot, perfectly seasoned and served with a smile.
I love ice cream. Like, it’s my favorite food. There is serious ice cream and fun ice cream. Rarely to the two cross paths, but 5280 Burger Bar nailed it. Appropriate for the season, their Halloween I-Scream was a perfect addition to the event. House churned ice cream candy explosion. Packed with sweet treats, creamy and delicious – this was not trickery.
Cook Street School of Culinary Arts had a booth filled with doe-eyed young students eager and ready to participate in likely, their first major event. Answering questions about their perfectly executed tres leches crepe (yes, crepe), they passionately communicated exactly what, who and how they were able to offer such an amazing offering. Oui, chef!
More Sweets! Voodoo Doughnut gave us a Mini Pumpkin Buttermilk Bar. A Dollop of Cream Cheese Frosting, and fall sprinkles was a great representation of how great these doughnut masters are. No bloody fingers – Just good ole Halloween fun.
And now, my favorite dish of the night – Roaming Buffalo BBQ killed the entire floor. Smoked Lamb Tamales with PUEBLO (Suck it NM) Green Chile Mole and Corn Relish was the highlight of the night. There’s a reason they had a line out the door – They deserved it. Smoky, richly sweet, tangy and crunchy, warm, and perfectly spicy – this was easily one the of the best tamales I’ve ever had. And let’s talk about teamwork here – Every one of their staff had a job and they worked together to assemble a highly technical dish for the mass of humanity waiting. From chef to chef – well fucking done, team.
Bacon Social House gave us Bacon Bourbon Brittle -apropos and delicious.
The biggest buzz from everyone was from the biggest buzz in Denver food truckery – Yuan Wonton was in their chosen element – outside. Their masterful food truck set the mood and it was a perfect place to let Penelope Wong and her husband Robert Jenks do what they do better than anyone – Chili Wontons.
Inside, Uchi Denver gave us Hama Chili – Yellowtail, ponzu, Thai chili, and orange supreme. It was supreme indeed.
Not as many snafus as I’ve seen at other events like this. The participants really looked like they we’re all comfortable and prepared. Everyone was available to answer questions about their dish, their restaurant, and why they chose to participate. No drunk assholes was key for me. No pushing and shoving. And a coat check was a nice touch. Maybe a change in the music as the setlist was for a different crowd.
There are a million food events in and around our fair city and this is a classic that I hope will continue for years to come. Cheers Westword.